She wished for an angel. She wished for one moment of true love.
"You?" The Riddler scoffed, shaking back opaque hair. "Sea-child, only the beasts of man are for you. Your fate is to sing them a thousand dead dreams, to lead them on the trail of tears and salted stars. It is not for you to love that which soars. Return to the waters and forget nightingales."
"Oceansoul, you are a Siren," the other sea maidens whispered. "As are we."
She sang with the seals and the selkies and she cried. She wandered the dead gardens beneath the waves and imagined a paradise where tears of sorrow would not burn the roots of passion trees. In the dead undersea gardens her acid tears were romanticide. "I am lust. That is all they love."
Sylphs and seraphim tangled the zephyrs of her dreams. Phantom wingbeats sounded in her ears, and the dust of the universe pooled in her heart. She sang the poison beasts from their ships, but she would not take them before their ends descended. She wanted no part in transient pleasure. Eve's error was not hers to repeat.
The Moonwitch watched, yanking the threads of the ocean through its tides and turns. On a broomstick of clouded starlight she ascended through the ether to the Aboveworld. "Heaven Queen, Queen of Hearts and Mother of the Skies," the Moonwitch implored. "I see her sorrow. It is not mine to give the gift of love to an oceansoul, or the gifts of the skies. Only light and influences may I give to beings of the sea."
"Angel wings burn to dust in the ocean. They are skybound as she is oceanbound." The Queen turned away. "My children are of white night clouds and pale fantasies." She withdrew a key from a pocket in her robes. "But the century is turning and Pandora is forgiving. There is a neverdream seed inside her dark chest of wonders, sleeping in hope's shadow."
"Every dark wonder in the chest is a beast. Hope is an illusion."
"If a beast may be blessed with beauty and grace, the neverdream blossom bears indeed a beast." The Heaven Queen unlocked the chest and released dark thoughts and trapped beasts into the Aboveworld. Hope chased the heels of the beasts, the neverdream seed caught in her tail. The Heaven Queen snatched it and the dark wonders rolled away, pounding the clouds into water and lightning. "At the turn of the century when the angels fall, the beasts shall return to the chest," the Heaven Queen said, mournfully watching the beasts bound across the skies and tear it into tatters.
The Moonwitch returned to her loom in a burning star chariot. She planted the seed in the dead gardens beneath the moonlit ocean.
The Riddler, circling the pyramids lands away, laughed. "A dead child shall bloom. After all, what is the difference between life and death? A dead child can steal poetry as well as a living one. Why live then die, instead of live dead?" She tied her moccasins and began the journey to the shores to witness the birth of the neverdream child.
Ghosts of sleepwalkers attended the dead gardens. The Siren wandered there, gathering wilted roses and hollow coral from the caves behind the purple waterfalls. Her tears gilded the neverdream's petals and turned them a porcelain blue.
The zodiac cavorted with lost poems overhead as the century folded over on itself. A child was born from the neverdream blossom, and as he cried out the Heaven Queen descended into the dead gardens. "Oceanborn child of the new century," she said, laying a hand on his chest. "He is dead, the rising son of a virgin Oceansoul. Bless this child, bless this dead boy, a dreamless poet pure of heart." She nodded to the Siren. "Teach him to fly on the wings of words. Teach him the moondance. He must live to tell the tale."
The Siren took the sweet dead boy in her arms and kissed his pale cheeks. "Angel child, winter son, heal the scars on my heart."
"Angels fall first," the Riddler said, tying her moccasins as she prepared to take her leave and walk the world.
The Moonwitch smiled on the boy and wove the tides to rock him to sleep. He learned to swim with the seals. He strung pearls and seaglass onto the strings of lost souls, chased seafoam along the edges of the ocean, and trained his fingers to find the melodies in the keys of a sunken piano.
"What is my real name?" he asked when he learned to speak.
"You are the dead century child, blessed by the Heaven Queen, adored by the Moonwitch, watched by the Riddler. Your name I cannot tell you."
"The Riddler told me the world is flat or round. Which is it? I want to see it."
"Do not step outside the sea," the Siren warned. "You will never return."
His wolf eyes were sad and curious and filled with dreams. "Tell me a story."
"It is not for poets to hear fairytales. It will only wake in you the wanderlust. You must stay in the care of the oceansouls and the Moonwitch. Only then can we protect you."
He played with the seals and buried his dreams in the dead gardens beneath the sea. "There is a beast in me," he whispered to the seals. "My heart is made of inkstains and sorrow. The Riddler told me that paradise lays beyond the snow. The beast inside me claws words into my head with the ink from my heart and roars for adventure."
The zodiac spun overhead. Soon his feet could reach the pedals of the piano. He could not sing, but he spoke the words of burning loveletters to nobody as his fingers found minor key melodies.
"Hey, Little Boy Blue," the Riddler said, leaning on the piano. "Ever kissed a cobra?"
"Leave me alone. Stop tormenting me with secrets I can never see." He bent over the keys.
"You're an orchid in a dead garden, Poet Thief. I can introduce you to the Sandman."
"I'm not allowed to dream."
"Sandman steals dreams, too." The Riddler laughed and swung her hat around. "Like you steal poetry."
He ignored her.
"You're old enough to step outside the window of the ocean and fly. Come see the world with me, Monster Boy. Dig up your sorrows and set them on fire under the bloody stars. A red sun rises over Egypt and sets blue over Alaska."
He looked up, wolf eyes blazing with bridled truth. "Can you bring me to life?"
"Can living boys fly? Can living boys walk the dead undersea gardens? Can living boys sleep in the cradle of the ocean, climb to the stars, ride dolphins into the moonset?"
"I can't fly," he said, hands curling on worn piano keys.
"You are old enough. Find the dream of wings and the universe will fasten them to your shoulders."
The Riddler took her leave.
At the eclipse, as the Moonwitch changed over the threads of her loom and the sea was dark, the dead boy climbed to the ocean window and looked out. Dreams rioted among the stars. He stepped to the sill and wavered for a moment. The Wishmaster and the Kinslayer crossed burning swords high above the water, and the seraphim danced around them.
"I wish for wings, I wish for dreams," the boy shouted.
"Dead Boy, you have no sense," the Sandman said as he passed by with his jars of dreams and sacks of sleepsand. "You have no fairytales, no dreams, no life, no song, and no name, yet you wish for all of these. Don't you know angels are the first to fall?"
In the rekindling moonlight, seraphim began to falter in their dances.
"They are transient. You, Dead Boy, are immortal."
"I'm a puppet of the oceansouls and the Heaven Queen, and a puppet can't be a god."
"Poets can't be gods, Dead Boy. They can only steal words from the mouths of mortals. They are ever in search of a lost paradise. They are doomed to sorrow. You are the oceanborn neverdreamer, and the ocean is where your heart belongs. Farewell, Dead Boy Alive." Scattering grains of dreams, the Sandman spun away.
The boy took a breath. "I want to hear swansong and understand why the nightingale sings. Why is beauty and understanding forbidden?" And he took a step outside. The universe tipped sideways and satin wings beat above him. He shouted out in joy.
"I'm sorry, to those who loved me. This poem is never meant to have an ending. This poem is infinity, this poem is time. This is the poem of the neverdreamer."
Below, the Siren looked up into the sky. "And so the dead poet drowns in the foreverdream. Forgive me, Adam, for not being able to save your son from wanderlust. He must discover the beauty of the beast on his own. Goodbye, Nemo, my sweet century child."